By Eduardo Rueda – Investigative Reporter
San Ysidro School District Superintendent Julio Fonseca resigned abruptly on Friday night after a four-hour closed-door Board meeting.
The District’s Board of Trustees had called a special meeting for September 1, to review complaints against Fonseca, including one raised by a district employee.
The Board conducted a closed-door meeting among the board members, Fonseca, and his lawyer for over four hours, before emerging to announce its action.
“The Board, by a vote of five to zero, accepted the resignation of the Superintendent effective immediately, in exchange for 18 months of compensation and release of all claims,” reported Board President Rosaleah Pallasigue. “Dr. Fonseca’s departure is based on a personal situation,” Pallasigue added.
Fonseca is currently facing a civil lawsuit filed against him by San Diegans for Open Government alleging he unlawfully approved a $114,000 settlement payout in May 2016 to a former employee that had raised concerns about Fonseca’s relationship with a female district employee.
The terminated employee, Jose Enrique Gonzalez, claimed Fonseca confided in him in December 2015 that he was about to hire a woman he was dating. The following week, the District hired Alexis Rodriguez to be the director of the District’s before- and after-school programs.
Days later, Gonzalez raised the issue of the relationship with other District staff, and within weeks, he was terminated from his position at the District.
Although Gonzalez never filed a tort claim or a lawsuit against the District, the Board quickly approved a settlement agreement with him on April 15, 2016, granting him one year’s salary plus benefits. After his termination, Gonzalez became the COO of La Prensa San Diego.
La Prensa first reported on the relationship between Fonseca and Rodriguez in February 2017. At the time, Fonseca claimed he only started dating Rodriguez after she was hired, but Gonzalez and several other witnesses contend Fonseca created the position specifically for Rodriguez and was already dating her before she was hired.
The Board did not take any action with respect to the relationship between the Superintendent and the staffer when the story was exposed, and Fonseca and Rodriguez continued to carry on with a personal relationship that became well-known among District staff.
The lawsuit against Fonseca claims the settlement with Gonzalez was illegal because the Board never voted to approve it. Two Board members who were in the closed-door meeting where the settlement was discussed on April 14, 2016, Rodolfo Linares and Steven Kinney, have said publicly that no vote was taken to authorize the payout.
The lawsuit also names former County Schools Superintendent Randy Ward as a defendant because he signed the settlement payment check issued to Gonzalez. The County Superintendent is responsible for overseeing the finances of all 42 school districts in the County. Ward was fired last year and is currently being sued by the California Taxpayers Action Network, claiming he engaged in self-dealing by negotiating his own pay raises.
Under state law, a Board vote is required to approve all district expenditures.
A recent California Supreme Court case upheld two felony convictions against former Beverly Hills Superintendent Jeffrey Hubbard for issuing a bonus and car allowance for a female employee. That district’s board did not vote to approve the expenditures. The California Supreme Court held that a superintendent has a fiduciary duty to protect the schools’ funds, and can be held criminally liable if funds are misappropriated or misused.
The Hubbard case has now become the standard for judging school district administrators.
Two weeks ago, former Poway superintendent John Collins was arraigned on four felony counts for taking over $345,000 in unauthorized payments from his district. Collins was charged with cashing out excessive vacation and sick time beyond what was granted in his contract.
And last week, former Centinela High School Superintendent José Fernández was arraigned on 12 felony counts connected to his misappropriations of funds in a scheme he used to spike his pay and pension benefits. At one point, Fernandez pushed his annual compensation to $750,000.
Fonseca became Superintendent in July 2015 after a series of changes at the San Ysidro School District. Former Superintendent Manuel Paul pled guilty in 2014 of coercing a prospective construction contractor into giving him $2,500 in cash.
Paul served 60 days in federal custody, and is now being sued by the District for return of over $200,000 he received as a severance package. The District claims Paul abused his office for personal gain and should forfeit the payout.
The cases against Fonseca and Paul are both pending in San Diego Superior Court.
Before the Board recessed into its closed session deliberation on Friday, several members of the public addressed the Board about Fonseca.
“Mr. Fonseca doesn’t care about our children’s safety,” said Carmen Ordoñez, mother of a fourth-grade student in the District. “Your administration is worse than Mr. Paul,” said added, referring to former Superintendent Manuel Paul.
Upon Fonseca’s resignation on Friday night, the San Ysidro Board appointed Deputy Superintendent Arturo Sanchez-Macias to serve as Interim Superintendent. Macias has worked under Fonseca for nearly two years, and manages the day-to-day finances of the District.